When Public Interest Overrides Personal Interest, By Godwin Akpan
“Any herdsmen found in possession of firearms shall be charged with unlawful possession of firearms.
“Any confiscated cattle shall be taken to government cattle ranches or any other designated areas as may be directed.
“Any property or farm products destroyed by the cattle shall be valued by the agricultural officers and made to be paid for by the herdsman.
“Cattle movement and grazing are restricted to the hours of 7am and 6pm.
“The law will empower the governor of the state to designate land in each local government in respect of which cattle or other ruminants may be permitted to graze.”
The above lines are contained in the bill proposed by Rt. Hon. Nse Ntuen, Member representing the good people of Essien Udim State Constituency, recently in the floor of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, which seeks to control the activities and operation(s) of Fulani herdsmen in the state, following several threats, environmental hazard, destruction of lives and properties and many more discomfort caused by herdsmen within and around the state. However, this has not gone down well with few individuals in the state, who believe the former ALGON boss is pursuing a personal rather than a collective interest.
Fulani herdsmen’s menace has become a recurring decimal in this country in recent times; therefore, any strategy to minimise or contain their activities will be a welcome development. Since the states have been empowered by law to legislate on grazing matters and livestock animals as a possible solution to curb the menace, I think a collective effort would be needed to make the bill achieve this purpose for the general interest and peace in our respective locality.
Some individuals have kicked against the bill and in all honesty, I respect their views on it, but unfortunately, none of them seems to have come up with a possible solution to the discomfort caused by Fulani herdsmen, which I think the bill proposed by Ntuen is set to address. In as much as people are at liberty to criticise the bill, it is very pertinent to study the situation at hand that led to the proposition of the bill in the first place, and of course, the content of the proposed bill if it has the potentials of addressing the situation.
The naked truth that we must not jettison is that these Fulani herdsmen are causing real menace in our communities. They enter our farm lands at night with their cattle, eat up crops planted with the sweat of our farmers, rape our women, maim and sometimes, kill our people if they dare to challenge them and in the early hours of the morning, they relocate to another place. This has continued for a long time now. We have also heard reports of their sacking an entire community just because some indigenes ventured to challenge them for destroying their farm. This is totally unacceptable and that is why we must collectively stop this madness and the solution is the confinement of the cattle and the herdsmen; and if this Bill is going to address it, so be it. Let’s give it a trial.
With the grazing bill made law and fully implemented, the friction between local farmers and Fulani herdsmen will be adequately managed. And when we have the herdsmen fail to heed to the provision of the law, then it will now become obvious that they want trouble. This method is what is obtainable in the developed countries, and Nigeria should, therefore, not be an exception.
Perhaps, I should make it clear here that, cattle rearers are stateless, meaning that they can enter into any state and graze their cattle and not until that law is abrogated, it remains so. Secondly, Nigeria may not really have the solution to desertification and draught for now, so cattle must continue to migrate from the dry North to the wet South for green pasture and when they come, they constitute a menace because they are not confined. If they were confined, the menace would have been greatly minimised and this explains why Ntuen’s Grazing Bill is apt, timely and relevant.
As important as the grazing bill is, the Nigerian senate at a point were fighting tooth and nail to see it become a law so as to control the excesses of the herdsmen in the country, but unfortunately, the senate could do very little as it was prevented by law to legislate on the matter, since it behoves on the states to legislate on such matters. This led to the withdrawal of the bill in the Senate.
The foundation for the withdrawal of the bill was led by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who said the Senate lacked the power to legislate on grazing matters.
Ekweremadu had informed his colleagues that only states have the powers to legislate on grazing matters and livestock animals, adding that since the matter was neither in the exclusive nor concurrent list, the National Assembly lacked the power to legislate on the matter.
In his words; “The issues at stake here are neither in the exclusive list nor in the concurrent list. I believe therefore that it is a residual matter. It is for states to decide how to deal with it. I believe the matter here concerns everybody, given the level of carnage the conflicts going on in different states. So, I feel the concern of my colleagues but unfortunately we do not have powers to legislate on matters relating to livestock in this Assembly. It is a matter reserved for the states. So, I believe that the bills for Senators Kwankwaso, Gemage and Utazi are beyond the reach of this National Assembly and should be accordingly withdrawn so that the states under the constitution should be able to deal with the matter which the constitution has prescribed for them. I will like to see somebody to show me anywhere in the exclusive list or concurrent list that has given us powers to legislate on this matter because they are not in existence.”
Ntuen’s proposed Grazing Bill, which according to the Deputy Senate President, is the exclusive right of states to legislate upon through state legislators, is in tandem with the pledge made by Governor Udom Emmanuel to provide adequate security to the people of the state. It is therefore pertinent to understand that confinement of cattle and herdsmen remains the possible solution to herdsmen’s menace and ultimately, a sure way of providing adequate security to the people, and of course this has its multiplier economic benefits.
For instance, if the bill scale through and becomes a law, it is going to boost our agricultural prospects and fortunes, especially, now that oil is no longer booming. The wanton destruction of farmlands and human lives by Fulani herdsmen will be effectively checked. Beyond that, employment opportunities could be created for the locals that may be willing to go into the business of rearing cattle, knowing too well that there is law guiding the operations of the herdsmen.
In giving credence to the Bill, the Speaker of the House, Barr Onofiok Luke, who himself is a proponent of the Grazing Bill, having in 2003, moved a motion on the floor of the House seeking full government control of the activities of herdsmen in the state by taking proactive steps to ensure that areas were designated for grazing, said Ntuen’s Grazing Bill is a reflection of the assembly’s people-centred philosophy. He said there was need for the House to act proactively to safeguard the lives and properties of residents in the state.
He said “the House of Assembly is here to make laws that will safeguard the lives and properties of our people at all times because this is what we were elected to do.”
It is therefore not a surprise to discover that most of the AKHA members threw their support behind the bill and promised to support the smooth passage of the bill for the benefit of the people and the general development, peace and security of the state.
These were the sentiments of some members of the House regarding the Grazing Bill.
For Hon. Ime Okon, representing Ibiono Ibom and Hon. Friday Iwok who speaks for Abak; “The extent to which the activities of herders have endangered the lives and properties of farmers in the country is quite alarming. It was time that laws were made to ensure that people are protected.”
For Hon. Otobong Ndem and Hon. Otobong Akpan; “It is dangerous for government to not act at a time when there are reckless killings and destructions of properties by herdsmen in the country.”
Hon. (Princess) Mfon Ekong; “Those who suffered the most at the hands of the Fulani herdsmen and their cattle were women. It is time adequate law is put in place to check the operations of the herdsmen.”
On her part, the House Deputy Speaker, Princess Felicia Bassey said; “It was important that her colleagues gave their full support to the bill so as to ensure government at the state level turns its search light fully on criminals who claim to be herdsmen.” Others also in support are: Hon. Mark Esset, Hon. Nse Essien, Hon Aniekan Uko and Hon. Uduak Odudoh and Hon. Barr. Aniefiok Dennis.
The sentiment expressed by some members of the 6th Assembly including the Speaker and of course, some members of the public, who are willing, among other thing, to give peace a chance in the state by supporting the Grazing Bill, goes contrary to the sentiment expressed by few individuals who, rather than study the content of the proposed bill and juxtapose the advantages and disadvantages, chooses to engaged in name calling, blackmail, character assassination, slander, vilifying, mudslinging and devising diverse means at humiliating the bill and the proponents of the bill.
The Bill which has passed through second reading in the House, has being attacked, misread, misrepresented and ignorantly condemned by some accidental Journalists and social media scavengers, who either had not read the 8 sections bill or understand the content or the intent of the legislature in coming up with this bill. It is rather unfortunate to discover that, while a member who was voted to make law for the development of the state is doing his constitutional obligation(s), these armchair critics, could condescend to suggesting that Hon. Nse Ntuen is sponsored by the dreaded Islamic sect, ISIS, in an attempt to Islamized Akwa Ibom. This is quite unfortunate!
Let me state categorically here that, a bill is a mere proposal for a new law, or a proposal to change an existing law that is presented for debate before the parliament. A bill is not a law. It becomes a law when it received the accent of the Governor, having passed through first, second and third reading. Bills presented by members of the house can be jettisoned if it is discovered not to be people-centred.
Let me once again say here that, as it stands today, Nigeria does not have a solution to the menace of Fulani herdsmen outside providing grazing areas. The Fulani herdsmen are ready to fight with the last drop of their blood because they have nowhere to go in search of green pasture for their cattle, but the South. Desertification is fast encroaching on the North and they must feed their cattle and like I said earlier, cattle rearers are stateless, so, we must accommodate them and accommodating them will mean we have to devise a way of living with them peacefully, hence the grazing reserves would become relevant.
As already indicated in the outset of this piece, the bill’s concluding explanatory memorandum seeks to provide for, among other things, the following for the overall benefit and development of everyone resident in the state:
- No person(s) shall allow his cow, bull, oxen or other ruminants to graze on any land in Akwa Ibom State.
- It is only the governor who can designate an area for grazing same to be designated as ranches, if he so wishes. Remember Obudu Cattle ranch?
- Note the use of the word “May” in the said bill which gives the governor option to designate or not to designate an area to graze accordingly, It is not mandatory.
- Cattle shall not graze at night, this has caused numerous accidents and destruction of farmlands when farmers are asleep.
- Cattle movements are restricted, herdsmen movement thereby restricted accordingly.
- Any herdsman carrying firearms (notably AK-47) shall be charged for unlawful possession of firearms. This is to protect our people from being slaughtered as it is happening in other states like Benue, Delta, Abia, Enugu, Plateau, etc.
- Provides for confiscation of cattle.
- The law gives the commissioner powers to make rules for carrying out the provisions of this law.
From the foregoing, constructive criticism of the AKHA bills are welcomed especially during public hearing and should not be restricted to ignorant and abusive comments on social media. Members of the public should not allow themselves to be used by few disgruntled elements that are not comfortable with the leadership of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.
It is important to properly situate between a chase for personal interest and that of the public. To this end, regarding the Grazing Bill, Rt. Hon. Nse Ntuen and the members of the 6th Assembly are pursuing a course that will ultimately provide for peace, security and development of the state and its citizenry.
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